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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

He Has Done Everything Well Pastor John Roekle

September 6, 2018 [Pentecost 16] Mark 7:31-37 J.D.Roekle

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

“He Has Done Everything Well”

Dear Friends in Christ,

He has done everything well. Those were words spoken by people who had just witnessed a miracle. Jesus restored a man’s hearing and ability to speak. They were excited! They were excited because they were amazed at what they witnessed. In fact, they were so excited that when Jesus told them not to tell anyone about it, they couldn’t help themselves and kept talking. You can see why they were excited, can’t you? It’s the kind of excitement you have when someone is cured of cancer.

But what do you think these people were thinking before the miracle and before Jesus came by? And think about the deaf and mute man himself. What do you think he thought about God as he dealt with his handicap? Do you think any of them questioned God about it?

What are you going through? What is it that you are dealing with? Perhaps it is the effects that old age brings on. Maybe you’re dealing with a health problem that has you adding another pill to your daily routine. It could be that you are dealing with the health of a sick child. Maybe someone you know and care about is addicted to alcohol or opioids.

The various suffering that we go through in life might get us to doubt God’s good intentions, and perhaps God’s ability to help us. Does God really do everything well?

When the ones who witnessed the miracle in our text spoke these words, he has done everything well, they emphasized the word ‘well.’ In fact, in the original language, they put the word first in order to give it prominence. “Well has he done everything.” They were convinced that whatever Jesus does, he does them well.

Think about what they seem to be echoing. They seem to be going all the way back to Moses words in Genesis as he records what was said about creation. Genesis 1:31. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” It was very good. Now, remember that this is what was said after the 6th and last day of creation. Six times in the verses before this, Genesis uses just the word “good” to describe what he had created that day. The creation of light was good. The creation dry land and the seas was good. The creation of vegetation was good. The creation of sun, moon and stars that govern day and night and time was good. The creation of birds and the fish was good. The creation of land animals was good.

Now why use good all this time and then very good at the end? Well one thing we need to remember that God has a different definition of ‘good’ than we do. How was the sermon today? Good, but it could have been a little shorter. How was your food? Good, but it was a little bland. When God uses the word ‘good’ it means that it was just the way he intended it to be. It is means that it was perfect. The light was perfect. The vegetation was perfect. The animals were perfect. The reason he says very good at the end is because now everything was complete.

Remember what God’s crowning act of creation was. It was the creation of Adam and Eve. Once that was done, God was finished creating. And all was perfect, including mankind. Adam and Eve could well have said God has done everything well!

When you see a sunrise or sunset, or when you hike in a state or national park, or when you witness the birth of a child, you also could chime in and say God has done everything well! At the same time, what we see today isn’t exactly the same as what Adam and Eve first saw. Weeds infest the ground. Disease affects plants, animals and people alike. Things are far from perfect. Does God really do all things well?

As Jesus was restoring the deaf man’s hearing, take note of what he did. He looked up to heaven and sighed deeply. What was this deep sigh all about? When Jesus was at the grave of his friend Lazarus and saw Lazarus’ sister Mary and others weeping, we are told that Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.”

Jesus knows that things are not the way in which were created. There are many things that make us sad and that trouble us. But those things that make us sad and trouble us do not come as a result of what God has done. He certainly does everything well. Instead, they come as a result of the fall into sin through Adam and Eve. It was their sin which brought deafness, decay and death into the world. As Jesus sighs, he is agonizing over the results of the fall which he sees before his very eyes in the face of this man who can’t hear nor speak. He is moved by the reality of what is, rather than what might have been.

What might have been was perfection always. No sin means no pain, sadness or death. But Adam’s sin and consequently our sin has made God’s creation not very good. The fact that the world is not very good today is not God’s fault, but ours.

When you and I sigh, it might often mean that we’re sad or tired and can do little or nothing about whatever is making us sad. Not so with Jesus. Even though he sighs about the present state of the world and people, he goes to work and does something about it.

Here we see him act and speak very simply. He put his fingers in the man’s ears, touched his tongue with his spit, and said simply “Ephphatha!” “Be opened!” That’s all it took. The man was restored. He was able to hear and speak. It was a miracle!

And this miracle, along with all the other miracles Jesus performed, was meant to be a restoration of the way things were supposed to be from the beginning. Each miracle was meant to communicate that Jesus had come for the sake of restoring all people, because God indeed does everything well.

When people are going through difficulties, we can empathize with them. However, much of the time we are powerless to help them. In Jesus’ deep sigh, we see him empathizing with our weaknesses. Jesus gets it. He knows the pain and hurt you experience. He’s been there. But he doesn’t just empathize, he takes our place.

This was all a part of God’s plan. God’s original plan was to create the world in perfection so that it remains in a perfect state forever. But since that plan was ruined, God went on to “plan B”. His plan to restore us.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be deaf. That’s often crossed my mind since I have several deaf relatives. What would it be like to walk in their shoes? On the other hand, I don’t have to wonder what it is like to be spiritually handicapped. That happens to me by nature because I’m born in sin. And it happens to you too.

But the Savior restores you and me. When Jesus had healed the deaf man, he told those who witnessed it not to tell anyone about it. Why would he do that? Because he didn’t want people to get the wrong idea as to why he was there. He was not doing miracles for show or to gain fame. Instead, he did them in order to prove that he had the ability to restore people through his cross.

Jesus would take all the sins that handicap us away by carrying them with him to his death and grave. The curse of sin has been broken. The resurrected Christ is evidence of it! We are indeed restored. We are able to see God’s plan, to hear his precious promises, and to speak his praises.

But even though we are restored, we still live in the reality of an imperfect world. And that leads us once again to the question we began with: Does God really do everything well?

While God’s plan to save us from an eternity away from him has been completed, his restoration plan isn’t yet complete. You see, God isn’t about ‘bandaid’ solutions. He’s into getting to the root of the problem and fixing it for good. That means that a final restoration is coming. It is ahead of us in the glories of heaven where there will be no question as to God’s ability to do everything well. It is there that perfection will be restored. Where all evil will be shut out. And where Jesus our Savior himself will reside with us. In the meantime, as we continue to walk on this side of glory, we can live in confidence knowing that God indeed does everything well. Amen.

Jesus Defines Greatness Pastor John Roekle

September 23, 20018 [Pentecost 18] Mark 9:30-37 J.D.Roekle

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. 33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus Defines Greatness

Dear Friends in Christ,

Dick Rowe was one of the most famous talent scouts in the music industry. He would most likely want you to remember him for his better moments; like the day he signed the Rolling Stones to a recording contract. However, he would probably like you to forget about what happened in 1962. That year an unpolished quartet auditioned for Rowe, but he wasn’t impressed at all by them. Along with rejecting the band’s desire for a recording contract, he also is said to have predicted, “Groups with guitars are on the way out.” Within a year of Rowe rejecting the group, this band had their first #1 hit on Billboard’s Top 100—“I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The Beatles had begun their historic British Invasion. By the time they were finished, the Beatles had recorded 71 songs in the top 100 and 21 songs that hit the top of the charts. They are ranked as the #1 artist in Billboard’s history.

So how did Dick Rowe miss them? How did he miss arguably the greatest band in history? Who knows?! But it is safe to say that greatness as Jesus defines it is overlooked all the time. Today we want to talk about what greatness in the kingdom of God looks like.

Greatness in God’s kingdom begins with Jesus. Jesus himself is really the very definition of greatness. He spelled out for his disciples what it was that made him great. As he was finishing up his public ministry, he took the time to teach them about greatness.

He began teaching them about greatness even before they asked the question about who the greatest in the kingdom of God is. He told them: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”

Jesus was teaching these truths consistently to his disciples. Just last week he spoke to them about this. This time he adds the part that he would be betrayed into the hands of men. When Jesus spoke about his road to the cross last week, do you remember the reaction? Peter rebuked Jesus for talking that way. This time, Jesus doesn’t receive a rebuke, but we are told the disciples didn’t know what Jesus was talking about. They didn’t get it.

Normally, if you don’t understand something, you ask questions. The disciples were afraid to ask questions. It was probably because they figured they weren’t going to like the answers. They seemed to focus only on the fact that Jesus was going to die. For some reason, they missed that he was going to rise again.

Many today miss out on the greatness of Jesus. That’s because they don’t want to hear or talk about the ugliness of their sin. They don’t want to talk about the fact that each one of us put Jesus in the position to have to choose to sacrifice himself in order to pay for our sins, so that we could be in harmony with God. Yes, what Jesus had to endure was ugly. We turn our heads away from the cross in shame in seeing Jesus there. Because it is there we see our own ugliness; our weakness; our sin. At the same time, we can look at the cross and rejoice, because there we also see great things out of Jesus. It is there that he delivered us! And the living Jesus assures us of this truth!

But again, the disciples didn’t understand all this. They didn’t understand what made Jesus truly great. That became evident by their conversation as they walked along the road. “They had argued about who was the greatest.” You could see how the question might naturally come up. It wasn’t long before this that Jesus had taken his inner circle of disciples – Peter, James, and John – up to the mount with him where he was transfigured. And so the question may have come up quite naturally: Does this mean those 3 are greater in God’s kingdom? And which one of them is the greatest?

The discussion of the greatest comes up often, doesn’t it? Who the greatest band of all time is. Or the greatest president. The greatest quarterback in the NFL. The world has a certain definition of greatness. Jesus has another. And in their discussion, the disciples were missing the point about greatness in the kingdom of God. It has nothing to do with prominence or position. It isn’t a popularity contest. It doesn’t even have anything to do with what someone has accomplished. In fact, greatness in the kingdom of God is something that goes largely unnoticed.

Jesus defined greatness this way: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Think about the nature of being a servant. A servant waits on others. Takes care of the needs of others.

A servant in the kingdom of God is guided by the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. In so doing, the servant of God is selfless. Not thinking of himself, but thinking of those he can serve. And the motivation isn’t to be recognized. In fact, the servant of God isn’t serving because they are looking for any kind of reward. Servants of God serve because they have received grace from the One who came to serve us by saving us. Yes, servants of God are moved to serve because of what Jesus has done for us. Service in the kingdom of God is thankfulness in action.

Jesus is the master teacher. He doesn’t just explain the principle of being a servant, but he also gives a relevant example. A timeless example. His illustration was a child that he brought and had stand among them. And then, picking up the child, Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

How much does our society value children? We could start with the countless numbers of children who don’t even see the light of day because of abortion. We hear many different accounts of how children are neglected or abused. And even children whose physical needs are taken care of are often not nurtured by their parents. People think: “I can’t take the time to raise my children. I have more important things to do. I’ll let others do that for me.” And it is saddening to see how often children are neglected spiritually.

There is no task that is more essential for the health of society and the church than serving the needs of children. It isn’t always easy…especially when you have to discipline a child. It isn’t always fun…changing diapers and cleaning up vomit aren’t the most popular tasks. But parents, grandparents, and all of you who have a hand in raising children, please know that you are doing what God wants you to do.

And even more important than taking care of children’s physical and emotional needs is taking care of their spiritual needs. It is the responsibility of parents to take care of their children’s spiritual needs. The church is here to assist. And each one of us pledges to help in some way. When we have a baptism, think about the exhortation that is given: “Brothers and sisters in Christ: Our Lord commands that we teach his precious truths to all who are baptized. Christian love therefore urges all of us, especially parents and sponsors, to assist in whatever manner possible so that this child/person may remain a child of God until death. If you are willing to carry out this responsibility, then answer: Yes, as God gives me strength.”

So we are all in on this. Parents, there are many avenues you have to nurture your children. It all starts with bringing them to church regularly. Even if it is difficult to pay attention and get much out of church. When you establish a pattern with your children early on and stick to it, it will reap benefits later on. That’s true with coming to church too! Take advantage of the various ministries we have for children: cradle roll, our grade school, Sunday School, Teen Bible Class, catechism class, and VBS. Remember, parents, that the church is assisting you in raising your children spiritually. You are still responsible for that. That means being engaged with them by praying with them, and knowing what they are learning in Sunday school or at WLS and enforcing those truths at home.

Grandparents, you too can also play a role in assisting with your children spiritually. Being a new grandpa myself, I’m learning the fine line of what I should say and shouldn’t say as I watch my son and daughter-in-law raise my grandson. But every grandparent can encourage their children and grandchildren to come to church. To take advantage of the many opportunities the church has to offer to give Christ to children. To make Christ a part of their daily routine at home.

Whether you are a parent or not, whether you are a grandparent or not, there are things that each of us can do in serving children. Instead of sneering at the parent of child who is crabby, rejoice that the child is in church and encourage the parents to keep bringing them. You also may be in a position to volunteer to help with various facets of the educational agencies of the church. Finally, all of us can serve children by praying for them. Pray that the Lord keeps them faithful. Pray that they are not led into temptation.

When we serve in these various ways, many or most people won’t even notice. But that’s okay. Remember that Jesus defines this as great in the kingdom of God as you selflessly serve. And it is all a reflection of the selfless One we are motivated by: our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Confess Christ Pastor John Roekle

September 16, 2018 [Pentecost 17] Mark 8:27-35 J.D.Roekle

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Confess Christ!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Are you ready? Are you ready to confess Christ? We are still in road construction season. This time around however, there’s even more road construction than we’ve had in past years. That’s because our area is working on its infrastructure in anticipation of an influx of people to our area over the next several years. In large part, that is due to the building of Foxconn which claims they will have 13,000 new jobs once the entire project has been built.

Along with those jobs, come people and families. Are we ready for the influx of people? Potentially 10s of thousands of people to our area? A few representatives of First Evan spent the morning out at Shoreland yesterday discussing that question. We heard from various people what we can expect as far as an influx of people goes.

Are we ready for it? Are we ready to reach out to the numbers of people who will be moving into the downtown area over the next few years? There are new housing developments being worked on as we speak. Perhaps you saw the Journal Times article last Sunday which talked about the old YMCA, which a developer from California recently purchased in order to turn the building into an apartment complex. They’re planning to put 46 new apartments in. And that news is only the tip of the iceberg. There are other housing projects in the works that will bring people here.

Are we ready for it? Are we ready to reach out to our neighbors? And keep in mind that as we reach out, we will also face challenges to our faith. People will question why we believe what we do, and why we do what we do.

The bottom line is this. We want to prepare ourselves to not only communicate Christ to people who need him so desperately, but also to be able to defend our faith against those who challenge us. To defend what we hold so dear. That’s what we want to focus on today.

Defending our faith means confessing Christ. In order to confess Christ, we need to know who he is. Jesus asked his disciples who people said he was. And they came up ideas people had about Jesus. John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets they answered. In other words, they knew Jesus was someone special, but they vastly underestimated who Jesus was.

So Jesus shifted the questioning to his disciples. “Who do you say I am?” As he often did, Peter served as the spokesman to offer the answer: “You are the Christ.”

We use the name Christ or Jesus Christ quite a bit. Jesus is the name he was given by God through the angel to both Mary and Joseph. And Christ is points to who Jesus was. He was and is the Anointed One. He is the chosen one of God.

There is something very special about Jesus. He is the one God chose to crush Satan’s head. But it was more than that. While many people looked at him as merely a special man, the name Christ implies something more. He is more than a man. He is also God. Both divine and human at the same time.

Today, Jesus is simply too big to ignore or to claim as a myth. So what do people often do with Jesus? They change who he really is. To some, he is some sort of social reformer. To others, he is a messenger of love, who tolerates immorality. In any case, all non-Christian people claim that Jesus is nothing more than a man.

Are you ready to defend who Jesus really is? Jesus is the Son of God, the one chosen by God. Yes, true God and true man. The Athanasian Creed which we speak on Trinity Sunday, not only defends the teaching of the Trinity, but also the fact that Jesus has two natures: “We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and man. He is God, eternally begotten from the nature of the Father, and he is man, born in time from the nature of his mother, fully God, fully man, with rational soul and human flesh.”

Confessing Christ means that we recognize who he is. It also means that we understand his purpose here.

Last week, after Jesus healed the deaf and mute man, he told those who witnessed it not to tell anyone about it. Here, too, when Peter confessed him as the Christ, he repeated the same warning. Don’t tell anyone about it!

We don’t have to speculate why he told Peter and the others that here. They simply didn’t get it yet. They knew he was both God and man, but they didn’t fully understand his purpose. That is clear to us when Jesus explained what was ahead for him. He would suffer, be rejected, be killed, and then rise again. What was Peter’s reaction to this teaching? He “took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him.”

Jesus was quick to react and to rebuke Peter harshly in return “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” The problem here was that Peter was subscribing to a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. Jesus did not come to be some kind of king on earth, but rather he came to suffer disgrace. And it was all for your sake and mine.

Peter meant well with his concern for Jesus and not wanting to see his master and teacher suffer or die. But the reason Jesus rebuked Peter so harshly was because this served as a temptation to Jesus. This was the only way it would work. If Jesus didn’t die, Satan would have won. If Satan won, we would all be lost.

As we defend Christ, we need to be ready to confess his purpose for coming in the first place. His purpose was to save us by taking our place. And the only way he could take our place was to go through what we were supposed to go through.

Now, as we confess these truths, we have to remember that it won’t make this life easier. In fact, confessing Christ can complicate things.

Jesus spelled that out to his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Confessing Christ means that sometimes we will need to make sacrifices. It means that we might be sacrificing our popularity. Speaking out against sin is not a popular position. Even if you don’t speak out against any specific sin, you still need to do it in at least a general way in order to truly confess Christ. For instance, in order to tell someone that Christ came to redeem them, you must also confess to them that they are lost and condemned creatures, because of who they are by nature.

But we are not here to see how many friends we can get to follow us on our Twitter feed, or to see how many likes we can garner on a Facebook post. We are here to confess all of what Christ teaches, even if it means getting unfriended or being show a cold shoulder or getting berated by a college professor.

Through the centuries, Christians have even died on account of their faith and confession. They have died for what they believe. Christians are dying around the world on account of their confession. A decade or two ago, I don’t think I would have thought that possible in the United States. I’m not so sure anymore. It may be coming. As apathy to Christ turns into hate for Christ, physical persecution usually follows.

Now I’m not trying to say that it’s coming anytime soon, but it may in the next generations. That’s why it is so important that we continue to zealously train ourselves and the next generations. That we may know who Christ is, and clearly understand his purpose. We need to have that firmly in our hearts and minds so that when the day comes when our faith is challenged, we may boldly confess Christ. Amen.